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Reconciliation: practice courage, take the first step

|July 15, 2022
Reconciliation: practice courage, take the first step

As communicators, we are often looked upon to provide counsel and recommendations on how to engage with various audiences, how to carry a message to them, and how to inspire action. What happens, though, when we don’t have the knowledge, the experience, or the representation to confidently engage with Indigenous peoples? Putting reconciliation into action means taking a step into the unknown and the uncomfortable.

At NATIONAL, we understand there is a collective responsibility to ensure this work is done with care, respect, and humility. When we provide counsel to our clients, there are a few places we will always start:

Start engagement early, maintain engagement often, and ensure transparency every step of the way

Any relationship needs to start with an introduction and be maintained through care and attention. Below are six principles to remember when starting your engagement and reconciliation journey:

  • Relationship building should start first before any ask. It sets the stage for meaningful engagement: Bring parties together early and be flexible with timelines. This should be the foundation of your work

  • Engagement must occur often and be meaningful: Maintain an open dialogue with multiple touchpoints—while allowing for community capacity. Share progress and allow for continued conversations, even after a community meeting or session

  • Co-design engagement protocols and parameters: Build the engagement process together to ensure a collaborative and respectful process from the start. Be open throughout for the process to evolve organically

  • Maintain informed engagement and Indigenous data sovereignty principles: Indigenous nations and peoples have the right to ownership and governance over data about them, regardless of where that data is held. Make information accessible, allow time for review before engagements

  • Practice inclusive listening: Stay flexible, encourage broad participation, make space for respectful interactions, while balancing the need for timely decisions

  • Ensure transparency and building trust: Make information available, report on progress, explain how input is being used throughout the process, reflect input in new processes and initiatives

Take an inside-out approach

Before engaging with Indigenous communities, ensuring you have done your homework within your team and business is critical. This should be an ongoing process, but there are a few things you can start with:

  • Understand the Constitution Act, 1982. Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 explicitly recognizes and affirms the existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. Section 35 also indicates that the term “Aboriginal peoples of Canada” includes the First Nation, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada. Familiarizing yourself with this legislation is important to understand Indigenous people’s intrinsic rights

  • Review and consider the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action. Which apply to you and your business? Determine how you can start to make progress towards them. Make a plan, and hold your business accountable to them through goals, milestones, and benchmarks. #92 is a great place to start

  • Starting with a Land Acknowledgement. This is the easiest first step towards reconciliation on behalf of your organization. It is a statement towards efforts in purposeful relationship building, recognition of traditional colonialism, and honouring the land of Indigenous peoples. More on Land Acknowledgements and what is included can be found here

Build your cultural awareness

Indigenous culture, teaching, and knowledge are rooted in a deep and rich history, from time immemorial, with nuance and differences across the territories. As settlers, it is incumbent upon each one of us to understand this history. Below are a few good places to start:

  • Understand the territory you are a settler on. Start researching and building your Indigenous Territory map within Canada to better understand the consultation process for communities or Elders to honour the system they work under

  • Understand the governance structure, leadership, and organizations present in the territory you occupy, and the projects they are working on

  • Understand the unique struggles and challenges of the communities within your territory, both past and present

  • Research the customary gift for Elders within the territory and communities. Customarily, Elders are given a gift in thanks for their time meeting and engaging with you. Some examples include monetary honourariums, tobacco, a blanket

At the end of the day, the most important first step in Indigenous engagement is to simply start. It takes courage, and progress may be uncomfortable, but I promise you this—it will be the most rewarding work you will do. We have the experience in this area to support with experts across our network. Reach out to us and we’ll dive in together.